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Authors: Haruki Murakami

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Hear the Wind Sing

BOOK: Hear the Wind Sing
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Hear the Wind Sing

by Haruki Murakami

1

“There’s no such thing as perfect writing. Just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.”

A writer I happened to meet when I was in college told me this. It was a long time before I finally understood what those words meant, but just knowing them was a kind of comfort that put me at ease. There’s no such thing as a perfect writing style. However, in spite of that, the thought of actually writing something always filled me with a sense of hopelessness, because the things I was able to write about were fairly limited. For example, if I were to write about elephants, I’d have had no idea what words to use. That’s what it was like.

I struggled on with this dilemma for eight years. Eight years—that’s a long time.

Of course, there’s a limit to how much you can try to learn about things, but it’s not as painful as being old. At least, that’s what they say.

From the time I turned twenty, I strived to live my life this way. Thanks to this, I took painful blows from others, I was deceived, misunderstood, and I also had many strange adventures. Lots of people came around to tell me their stories, and their words flew over my head as if crossing a bridge, and they never came back. During that time, I’d keep my mouth shut, not telling anybody anything. And that’s how I came to the end of my twenties.

Now, I think I’ll tell a story.

Of course, there’s not a single solution to the problem, and once the story’s over, things will probably still be just as they were. In the end, writing a story isn’t a means of self-therapy, it’s nothing more than a meager attempt at self-therapy.

But, telling a story honestly is extremely difficult. As much as I try to be honest, the words I’m looking for always seem to sink into dark depths.

I’m not trying to make excuses. At least what I’m writing here is the best I can do. There’s nothing else to say. Still, here’s what I’m thinking: way before you’re good at it, maybe years or decades before you’re good at it, you can save yourself, I think. And when you do, the elephant back on the plains will be able to tell his story with words more beautiful than your own.

* * *

I learned a lot about writing from Derek Hartfield. Almost everything, I should say. Unfortunately, Derek Hartfield himself was the embodiment of a

‘simple’ writer. If you read his work, you’ll understand what I mean. His writing was hard to read, his plots were haphazard, and his themes were childish. However, in spite of all that, among the few extraordinary writers who brandished their writing as a weapon, he was unique. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, the other writers of his time, even compared to them, the militancy of his writing has never wavered, in my opinion. Unfortunately, even at the very end, Hartfield could never get a clear grasp of the shape of his own enemy. When it was all said and done, it was a very simple affair indeed.

Eight years and two months, that was how long his own simple battle lasted, and then he died. In June of 1938, on a sunny Sunday morning, clutching a portrait of Hitler with his right hand and an open umbrella in his left, he jumped off the roof of the Empire State Building. The singular manner of his life, nor that of his death, ever became a subject of great intrigue.

I had the good fortune to receive a copy of Hartfield’s already out-of-print first novel during the summer vacation of my third year of middle school, while I was laid up with a skin disease that had taken over my crotch. The uncle who’d given me that book came down with bowel cancer three years later, had his body cut into ribbons from head to toe, and with plastic tubes jammed into his bodily entrances and exits, died upon their painful removal. The last time I saw him, his shriveled up, reddish-brown features had contracted severely, his body resembling that of a sly monkey.

* * *

In all, I had three uncles, but one of them died in a suburb of Shanghai. Two days after the war ended, he stepped on one of the land mines he’d buried himself. The third uncle, the sole survivor, became a magician and went around touring all of Japan’s hot springs.

* * *

On the subject of good writing, Hartfield said something that went like this:

“The writer who writes literature, that is to say the writer who ensconces himself in his work, always checks his distance. The important thing isn’t what he perceives, it’s the ruler he uses.” -If it Feels Good, What’s the Problem?, 1936

I stared at the ruler I held timidly in my hand the year Kennedy died, and from then it was fifteen years later. In those fifteen years I’d found that I’d really given up a lot. Like an airplane with an engine on the fritz, expelling luggage, seats, then finally the sorry stewardesses, in those fifteen years I discarded every possible thing, but I’d gained almost nothing in the way of wisdom.

As a result of that, and I don’t know if I’m right about this or not, I’ve lost all my convictions. Even if it makes things easier, my worst fear is that when I get old and I’m facing death I’ll wonder what the hell I’ve got to show for any of it. After I’m cremated, I doubt even a single bone will remain.

“People with dark souls have nothing but dark dreams. People with really dark souls do nothing but dream,” went a favorite saying of my late

grandmother.

The night she died, the very first thing I did was to reach my arms out and softly close her eyes. As I did this, the dream she’d held for seventy-nine years ended the way a summer shower stops falling on pavement, and after that there was nothing left.

* * *

I’ll write about writing once more. This is the last thing I have to say about it.

For me, writing is a terribly painful process. Sometimes I spend a month unable to write a single line, other times, after writing for three straight days and nights I realize everything I’ve written is all wrong.

Nevertheless, in spite of all that, writing is also a fun process. Compared to the difficulties of living, with writing it’s a lot easier to find meaning. Maybe it was in my teens when this fact finally hit me, and I was surprised enough to be dumbfounded for a week. If I could lighten up just a little, the world would move according to my whims, the value of everything would change, the flow of time would be altered…that’s how I felt.

The problem with that, as I realized, would come much later. I drew a line in the middle of a piece of notebook paper, filling up the left side with things I’d gained, and in the right side listing things I’d lost. The things I’d lost, trampled to pieces, things I’d given up on long before, things I’d sacrificed, things I’d betrayed…in the end I just wasn’t able to cross these out and cut my losses.

The things we try our hardest not to lose, we really just put create deep abysses in the spaces between them. No matter how long your ruler is, it’s an immeasurable depth. The most I can do in writing it down is merely to make a list. Not even with short stories or literature, not even through the arts. Just a notebook with a line drawn down the middle of its first page. There might be some kind of a small lesson in this.

If you’re looking for fine art or literature, you might want to read some stuff written by the Greeks. Because to create true fine art, slaves are a necessity. That’s how the ancient Greeks felt, with slaves working the fields, cooking their meals, rowing their ships, all the while their citizens, under the Mediterranean Sun, indulged in poetry writing and grappled with mathematics. That was their idea of fine art.

Those people digging around in the refrigerator at 3am, those are the only people I can write for. And that, is me.

2

This story begins on August 8th, 1970, and lasts for eighteen days, meaning it finishes on August 26th of that same year.

3

“All those rich fuckers can just go to hell!”

The Rat had his hands on the counter, looking depressed as he shouted this to me.

Or maybe he was shouting at the coffee grinder behind me. The Rat and I were sitting next to each other at the bar, and he had no reason to shout at me like that. But, at any rate, when he was finished yelling, he drank his seemingly delicious beer wearing an expression of contentment.

Naturally, nobody in the vicinity paid any attention to his shouting. The small bar was overflowing with customers, and each and every one of them were shouting at each other the same way. It was like being on a sinking ship.

“Parasites,” he said, shaking his head in what looked like revulsion. “Those guys can’t do shit. I look at those guys acting all rich, and it just pisses me off.”

With my lips on the thin rim of my beer glass, I nodded in silence.

On that note, the rat shut his mouth and gazed at his hands on the counter, turning them over and gazing at them intently, again and again, as if they’d been in a bonfire. I gave up and looked up at the ceiling. He inspected each of his fingers in turn, and we couldn’t start our next conversation. It was always like this.

Over the course of that summer, like men obsessed, we drank enough beer to fill a 25-meter swimming pool and our peanut shells would have carpeted the floor of J’s Bar at a depth of five centimeters. If we hadn’t done so, the tedium of the summer would have been unbearable.

On the counter of J’s Bar was a picture smeared by tobacco-stained fingers, and at those times when I was bored out of my mind, I never grew tired of staring at that picture for hours on end. Its pattern made it look like it was made to be one of those inkblot pictures they used in Rorschach tests, and to me it looked like two green monkeys pitching tennis balls that had fallen out of the sky.

When I said as much to J, he stared at it for a minute and nonchalantly said yes it did, when I put it that way.

“What do you think it is?” I asked.

“The monkey on the left is you, the monkey on the right is me. I toss out bottles of beer, and you toss me the money to pay for them.”

I drank my beer in admiration.

“They piss me off.”

After the Rat finished gazing at all his fingers, he said it again.

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard the Rat badmouthing the rich, and again, he really did hate them. The Rat’s own family was fairly rich, but when I pointed that out to the Rat, he’d say, ‘It’s not my fault.’ At times (usually when I’d had too much to drink) I’d say, ‘It is your fault,’ and afterwards I’d feel pretty bad about it. Because he did have a point.

“Why do you think I hate rich people?”

Said the Rat one night, continuing his argument. It was the first time our conversation had advanced this far.

I shrugged my shoulders as if to say I didn’t know.

“I’ll just come right out and say it, rich people have no imagination. They can’t even scratch their own asses without a ruler and a flashlight.”

‘Coming right out and saying it’ was how the Rat often prefaced his statements.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. They can’t think about anything important. They only pretend like they’re thinking about things…why do you think that is?”

“No idea.”

“They don’t need to. Sure you need a little brainpower to get rich, but to stay rich you don’t need any at all. The way satellites in space don’t need gasoline. It’s okay just to keep going round and round in the same place. But that’s not me, and that’s not you. We have to keep thinking if we want to survive. From the weather tomorrow to the stopper in the bathtub. Don’t you think?”

“Maybe that’s just how it is.”

Having said his piece, the Rat took a tissue out of his pocket and blew his nose loudly. I honestly had no way of knowing if he’d really said all he wanted to say.

“Still, in the end, we all die just the same,” I said, testing him out.

“Oh yeah, oh yeah. Everybody’s gotta die sometime. But until then we’ve still got fifty-some odd years to go, and a lot to think about while we’re living those fifty years, and I’ll just come right out and say it: that’s even more tiring than living five thousand years thinking about nothing. Don’t you think so?”

That’s how it went.

* * *

I’d first met the Rat three years before, in the spring. It was the year we both entered college, and the two of us were completely smashed. Why in the hell we were, at sometime after four in the morning, stuck in the Rat’s black Fiat 600, I almost can’t remember. We probably had some mutual friend. Anyway, we were sloppy drunk, and as an added bonus the speedometer was pointing at eighty kilometers-an-hour. Thanks to all that, we broke through the park’s immaculately-trimmed hedges, flattened a thicket of azaleas, and without thinking, not only smashed the car into a stone pillar, but came away without a single injury, which I can’t call anything but a stroke of luck.

Awakened by the shock, I kicked away the broken door and climbed out. The hood of the car was knocked ten meters away, coming to rest in front of the monkey cage, and the front end of the car bore the giant imprint of a stone pillar. The monkeys seemed to be terribly upset at being jarred awake by the noise.

The Rat, with his hands still on the steering wheel, was leaning forward, not because he was hurt, but because he was vomiting onto the dashboard the pizza he’d eaten just an hour before. I clambered up onto the roof of the car and peered through the sunroof onto the driver’s seat.

“You okay?”

“Mm, but I might’ve drank too much. You know, with the throwing up and all.”

“Can you get out?”

“Pull me up.”

The Rat cut the engine, took his pack of cigarettes from the dashboard and put it in his pocket, then slowly seized my hand and climbed up onto the roof of the car. Sitting side-by-side on the roof of the Fiat, we looked up at the dawning sky, silently smoking who knows how many cigarettes. For some reason, I was reminded of a tank movie starring Richard Burton. I have no idea what the Rat was thinking about.

“Hey, we’re pretty lucky,” said the Rat five minutes later. “Check it out, not a scratch on us. Can you believe it?”

I nodded. “The car’s busted, though.”

“Don’t worry about that. I can always buy another car, but luck I cannot buy.”

BOOK: Hear the Wind Sing
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